Hanoi is the capital of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and the second-largest Vietnamese city after Ho Chi Minh City ( Saigon ).
It has an estimated population of 7.7 million as of 2018, and with the metropolitan area included arises to 16 million.
Located in the central area of the Red River Delta, Hanoi is the commercial, cultural, and educational center of Northern Vietnam.
The capital of Vietnam is one of the most ancient capitals in the world with over 1000 years of rich history.
Originally founded as Thăng Long, the capital of Imperial Vietnam, in 1010 by monarch Lý Thái Tổ, the city was renamed to its current name Hanoi in 1831. In 1873, Hanoi was conquered by the French, and from 1883 to 1945, the city was the administrative center of French Indochina. The French colonization left a lasting impact on the city's architecture that is visible today.
Following the Japanese occupation (1940 to 1945), the First Indochina War (1946–1954), and the Vietnam War (1955–1975), Hanoi was designated as the capital of a reunified Vietnam in 1976.
Today, Hanoi is a dynamic and thriving city that blends well Eastern and Western influences with remarkably preserved colonial buildings, ancient temples, pagodas, interesting museums, theaters and lively markets.
The city is also known for its cuisine and delicious street food, buzzing nightlife and cultural diversity.
Foreign visitors to Hanoi must be also aware of its crowded streets and hectic traffic where crossing a road can be an adrenaline-fueled experience.
The city's main attractions and places of interest include:
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Complex
The most iconic and popular attraction of Hanoi is located in the center of Ba Dinh Square.
A place of pilgrimage for many Vietnamese, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex is set in a green garden with a beautiful lake. The complex comprises several buildings - Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum, Ho Chi Minh’s Stilt House, the Presidential Palace, Ho Chi Minh Museum and the One Pillar Pagoda.
The Mausoleum serves as the resting place of the Vietnamese Revolutionary leader and President Ho Chi Minh. His embalmed body is laid in a glass case for visitors to pay respect.
The mausoleum was formally inaugurated on August 29, 1975 and it was inspired by Lenin's Mausoleum in Moscow.
The exterior is made of grey granite, while the interior is grey, black and red polished stone.
The Presidential Palace is an opulent restored colonial building, constructed in 1906 as the Palace for the Governor General of Indochina.
Today, the building is used for official receptions and isn’t open to the public.
Also worth a visit is the Stilt House, which served as a home to Ho Chi Minh, and is excellently preserved, and the One Pillar Pagoda. Built of wood on a single stone pillar, the pagoda is designed to resemble a lotus blossom, the symbol of purity, rising out of a sea of sorrow.
This pagoda is a reconstruction of the original 11th-century temple, which was destroyed by French colonial troops.
The Ho Chi Minh Museum is dedicated to the life of the Vietnamese leader and presents information about the history of the Vietnamese Revolution.
Temple of Literature
Originally built as a university in 1070 dedicated to Confucius, scholars and sages, today, Temple of literature has become a memorial to education and literature.
It is one of the most remarkable Hanoi's attractions, also known as Confucius temple or Temple of culture.
Inside the ancient site there are buildings from the Ly and Tran dynasties - ornate pavilions and shrines, beautiful pond and a garden, and a well-preserved pagoda where a statue of Confucius sits.
The Temple has become a rite of passage for graduating doctors. Originally the university only accepted aristocrats, the elite and royal family members as students before eventually opening its doors to the larger public.
Near the entrance, you can still see the names of students who studied here, engraved into a series of pillars.
Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
This UNESCO World Heritage Site, also known as the Hanoi Citadel, is closely related to Vietnam's history. It is a complex of historic imperial buildings located in the center of Hanoi.
It consists of exhibitions of beautiful pottery and other ancient artifacts, an underground bunker that was used in the Vietnam war or as the Vietnamese call it the American war, a museum, a princess’ pagoda, north and south gates and beautiful gardens.
Many of the artifacts and items dating back to between the 6th and 20th centuries were excavated recently at the archaeological site.
The central place takes Kinh Thien Palace which was built in 1428 and it was where imperial ceremonies and great national affairs were celebrated.
Hoan Kiem Lake (Turtle Lake)
Hoan Kiem Lake is a popular place for relaxation among local people and tourists. The splendid surroundings create a perfect background for taking photos.
The major highlight is a small island upon the lake that holds Ngoc Son Temple and is reachable by a beautiful red bridge. Another tiny island on the southern section of the lake holds the stocky Turtle Tower - best viewed from the bridge. The area is also a favorite spot for jogging and Thai Chi practicing.
Museum of Ethnology
Hanoi's Museum of Ethnology depicts Vietnam's diverse culture and rich ethnic history. The museum houses the extensive national collection and showcases the 54 different ethnic groups in Vietnam, informing about their traditional ways of life - from religious events to the symbolic rituals.
On display you will see a wide range of artifacts, interesting clothes and costumes, jewelry and items related to weddings, funeral ceremonies, and other spiritual rituals.
The outdoor area is even more interesting to explore. In a tranquil green park are located a variety of Vietnamese homes and rural dwellings used by different ethnic minorities across Vietnam.
Hanoi Old Quarter
Hanoi Old Quarter is a vibrant and fascinating area, dominated by colonial-style buildings and many shops, cafés and restaurants offering delicious street food.
The unique and authentic atmosphere is being created by the narrow streets filled with scooters, motorbikes, bicycles and cars, driving (at first sight) in a very chaotic way. Crossing a road here might be quite a challenge and nerve-racking for inexperienced foreign visitors.
While the traffic is hectic and complicated, you may explore the area on foot or take a rickshaw. Rickshaw ride throughout the Old Quarter is a thrilling and exciting experience you will be happy to undertake. During the ride you will have the chance to see the life of local people and feel the dynamics and vibration of the area.
Water Puppet Theatre
Hanoi's water puppet shows are a very popular way to sample traditional Vietnamese art and entertainment.
There are several theatres where guests can see these unique Vietnamese shows and enjoy watching puppets dance and slide elegantly over the liquid stage, controlled by a whole troupe of puppet masters hiding behind a screen. The show program is very suitable and enjoyable for children.
Dong Xuan Market
If you are in a shopping mood, you may head to the largest market in Hanoi - Dong Xuan Market, housed in a four-storey building.
A big assortment of non-expensive apparel, electronics, souvenirs and food are on display to select.
The place is popular among tourists and prices might be inflated, so be ready to practice your bargaining skills.
Other places you may consider visiting are the Fine Art Museum that holds a collection of Vietnamese artistry from the prehistoric age as well as contemporary artists' works; and the elegant building of Hanoi Opera, built in 1911 by the French colonial administration and modeled on the Palais Garnier, the older of Paris's two opera houses.
Highly recommended when visiting Hanoi is to go as well to another iconic and breathtaking destination in Northern Vietnam - Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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